Magician and actor Ricky Jay, of ‘Boogie Nights,’ dies at 72

NEW YORK — Ricky Jay, a magician, historian of oddball entertainers and actor who appeared in “Boogie Nights” and other films, has died. He was 72.

Actor/magician Ricky Jay on May 2, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Jay died of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles, according to his manager Winston Simone, who did not say when he died.

Jay appeared in several films and television series, including as a cameraman in “Boogie Nights”; in “Magnolia” and “Tomorrow Never Dies”; and in HBO’s “Deadwood.” He consulted on “Ocean’s Thirteen” and “Forrest Gump” and collected rare books on unusual entertainers and performers dating back hundreds of years.

His one-man shows played to packed audiences, where his sleight-of-hand artistry impressed even fellow magicians. In one famous trick, he would pierce a watermelon with a card flung through the air.

He also wrote several books on magicians and their craft, including “Dice: Deception, Fate and Rotten Luck.”

Jay was fond of stories of oddball characters, gamblers and con men in history, and wrote a book celebrating the artistry of Matthias Buchinger, an 18th-century German magician born without legs and hands.

A collection of Buchinger artifacts collected by Jay was featured in an 2015 exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Jay frequently worked with the playwright David Mamet, who produced his one-man show “Ricky Jay & His 52 Assistants.” That sold out all its New York City performances and won an Obie Award for off-Broadway theater productions.

A later Mamet-produced off-Broadway show, “Ricky Jay: On the Stem,” played to packed houses for six months. The Associated Press called it a “whirlwind, rollicking journey through forgotten New York history — with specific attention paid to the oddball characters who thrived decades ago on Broadway.”

Jay also appeared in Mamet films such as “House of Games,” ”State and Main” and “Heist.”

Survivors include Jay’s wife, Chrisann Verges.

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